Super Bowl or March Madness, Las Vegas golf on a whim no long shot

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LAS VEGAS -- Super Bowl Sunday is more than an unofficial national holiday here. In Vegas, the American celebration of football, food and friendly parties becomes something even gaudier, an instant Mardi Gras and Carnivale brought to The Strip.

Las Vegas sign
During Super Bowl week and March Madness, Vegas is where the real action is.
Las Vegas signLas Vegas Paiute Golf Resort - Sun Mountain - hole 17

In fact, Paul Tagliabue's game has become so linked with Las Vegas, the NFL commissioner's had his high-powered lawyers burying the casinos in an avalanche of cease-and-desist letters, geared to stop the hugest of the huge Super Bowl parties the last few years.

"If you haven't experienced Las Vegas during the Super Bowl or March Madness, you haven't really experienced Las Vegas," said Joe Massanova, TPC at The Canyons' marketing director and wowed Arizona transplant. "There's nothing else quite like it."

Or as frequent Vegas visitor Harry Edwards puts it more bluntly, "If you thought Vegas was a party town usually, you have no idea. You really have no idea."

Super Bowl weekend is when a town that is hardly known for being uptight really lets it hair down. Las Vegas ran a national ad campaign last January, tweaking the then-Super Bowl host city Houston, with the line, "If only it was this exciting at the game in Houston" over images of The Strip. With Jacksonville set to be the host of the Super Bowl this Feb. 6, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority seems to have taken a why bother approach.

"It's Jacksonville, man," Edwards said. "Who's ever going to think Jacksonville could be more exciting than Vegas?"

In 2004, Super Bowl weekend drew 286,000 visitors to Las Vegas and saw a 95.8 percent room occupancy rate. No wonder everywhere is crowded in Vegas during Super Bowl weekend, from the sports books to the gaming tables to the restaurants to the golf courses. That's right, the golf courses. Events like the Super Bowl and March Madness are a money holiday for the golf management companies as well. Getting a prime tee time during the Super Bowl or March Madness frenzy is even something of a modern status symbol.

Many casinos use the Super Bowl and March Madness as perks for their high rollers. Super Bowl and March Madness are events that bring out the famous and the unfamously rich. Yet even with all this star and wallet power headed to town, even with the clock ticking toward Super Bowl Sunday and college basketball's March Madness, it is not too late for the average duffer to find places to stay and play.

The trick is to look away from the high-status, high-roller havens that easily charge close to $300 per round. By focusing on the mid-range courses instead (which in Vegas still means $145 and up greens fees), you can find Super Bowl and March Madness golf opportunities.

The highest priced courses traditionally sell out first. But if you look at that next level of courses, there's a number of places you can still get on. Places like Siena Golf Club, Rio Secco and even the Jack Nicklaus' tribute Bear's Best are still legitimate Super Bowl weekend options. These are courses every bit the equal of many of the high-roller attention grabbers, they just are not as trendy right now, which can be a good thing for the last-minute, quality-seeking golfer. Just don't expect to snag one of the more coveted tee times. Or to be alone on the course.

Which brings up another golf danger in the Super Bowl and March Madness zaniness. Some courses pack their tee sheets as tight as New York's Lincoln Tunnel traffic during these prime events, the better to squeeze out more profits. It is more important than ever to do your homework before you book your round, to ask specifically about tee time intervals or find someone who's in the know.

Sometimes the best bet is to head a little out of town for the golf part of the Super Bowl or March Madness trip. The three Pete Dye courses at Las Vegas Paiute Golf Resort are only 30 minutes north of The Strip and yet they are often readily available on these biggest of Vegas sports weekends.

When the featured action is in the sports books, it is hard to draw the crowds that far away.

Which makes the Primm Valley Tom Fazio courses, 45 minutes out by the California border, a virtual Super Bowl or March Madness hideaway. Fazio's name and rep can still sell them out, so don't get overconfident, but with even a little notice you should be able to find a tee time.

For those looking for an escape from the crowd during the weekend-while still being able to get back for the big game-St. George, Utah tracks like Entrada are a different kind of adventurous option. It will cost you nearly four hours round trip to get to and from St. George, but it will break up the debauchery of Vegas' all-time party times with clean air and nature views you may never forget.

Of course, there are those Super Bowl and March Madness golf visitors who never even make it to that course just 15 minutes from The Strip.

"I've seen guys come for Super Bowl weekend, all gung-ho about golfing, who end up never leaving the casinos the whole trip," Edwards said. "The whole scene can get addicting. Quick."

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


 
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